This upcoming weekend marks a milestone in music history; unless you live under a rock, you already know that it was 50 years ago Sunday that the Beatles performed on The Ed Sullivan Show. Unfortunately for them, after that appearance, they faded into obscurity and are now largely known as the biggest disappointments ever. Except for that Ringo. Hit after hit after hit! Not to mention his knighting…
(Okay, I’m done.)
I can’t remember how long it’s been since I’ve intentionally listened to a Beatles album. I’m inclined to say, like, eight years? Maybe more, maybe less. Folks who knew me in the “before times” will be shocked to hear that, since I was probably qualified to be institutionalized at one point for how Beatle-crazy I was. And we’re talking at least a decade here. (Nothing compared the first generation, but considering that’s a pretty substantial chunk or my life at this point, it probably warped my brain forever.)
As with any fandom, a natural ebb and flow of interest is totally normal. Kind of like when a TV show goes on hiatus: you love that show but aren’t living and breathing its existence two weeks after a season finale. It’s cyclical. My Beatles love waned and resurged organically, but the Fab Four always remained somewhere in my rotation and were somehow always workable into conversations.
Until, one day, I made the conscious decision to quit the Beatles.
I had given my musical life over to the Monkees when I was 11 and subsequently fell in love with ’60s music. But I’d initially avoided the Beatles because of the tongue-in-cheek rivalry between the Monkees and them, except in my youthful naivety, I took it literally. One of my favorite activities was drawing devil’s horns on Paul McCartney in MS Paint.
And yet, I finally became a hardcore, obsessed Beatlemaniac in February 2000. I was in junior high school and my English teacher played the Yellow Submarine CD during class. I was intrigued enough to ask him about it, and he was more than happy to indulge me. Sure, I felt a little bad giving these losers a chance when I’d spent years making fun of them, but damn, was their music addictive.
After school that day, I went to the library and rented Help! on VHS and spend the rest of the weekend watching it over and over. I had no idea who was who, or what the eff was going on, but it completely changed my life. As most do, I spiraled down into the psychedelic tornado of Beatlemania. Over the next few years, I collected every CD, book, record, magazine, and minute fact that I could. My friends and family barely tolerated my obsession. I began meeting fellow obsessees through Beatles communities online. I even had a Beatles fansite to match my Monkees one, which, because God is spiteful and unforgiving, is still preserved on the webs for the world to see.
I also got sucked into the world of Beatles tribute bands, a topic about which I could probably write a book — or at least a separate Popdose column. I followed a local Ohio band and slowly became ingrained in the organization; in college, I helped revamp their website and promotional materials. I also booked them for the very first show I ever promoted in 2003. (That show was what prompted me to choose music business as a career path, in fact.) I took trips to Chicago, the hotbed of the tribute band industry in the mid-2000s and, I admit, made great friends from those days. It was a strange time to be a young Beatles fan, let me tell you.
I was lucky enough to infect my best friend, Erin, with the Beatle virus. She chose Paul as her favorite, and mine was John. We were like fric-and-frac, or, more accurately, Lennon and McCartney. If we weren’t writing a round-robin Mary Sue Beatles fanfic, we were chattering endlessly about who was the cutest, or which songs were the best. And even when Erin eventually moved away, I held strong: I woke up and Beatled. I went to sleep and Beatled. I Beatled at school, home, in the car, out with non-Beatle friends — you name it. I was inescapable and,
probably definitely, annoying.
And then I realized it was enough. I was officially and, I thought, irrevocably burnt out on the Beatles.
Thinking back now, I can’t quite remember what was the final straw. I think that I genuinely overdid it for so many years and finally just had had enough. (Kind of like how my mother can’t really eat McDonald’s fries anymore after the Beanie Baby craze of ’96.) I was in college and my tastes in music were quickly diversifying; in addition to the Kinks, I was now spinning Green Day. On my college radio show, Fall Out Boy preceded “This Diamond Ring.” Call it eclectic, but it was a confusing time for a young woman who had always first and foremost identified as a Beatles fan.
Over the ensuing years, my life expanded rapidly: I graduated college and moved to New York City to attend grad school at NYU and focus more on developing my writing and my career. Obviously, music was still a massive part of my day-to-day life, but the Beatles had moved so far to the back of my brain that I was actually starting to dislike hearing and talking about them. During two separate trips to Liverpool, I found myself bored and even annoyed at times with how obsessed the city was with its famous sons. (Hypocrite much?) In turn, I was pissed at myself because, somewhere, deep down, was that 13-year-old kid with the fansites screaming, “I HATE YOU, 22-YEAR-OLD ALLISON. WHY CAN’T YOU LET ME HAVE THIS?!?!” I wish there was some meaningful, philosophical reason why I flipped off my Beatles switch; the truth is, I thought that part of my brain had simply short-circuited and died.
The weirdest part was I kept going through the motions as if I didn’t know how to derail myself physically from the Beatles track. I went to my friends’ tribute band shows, counting the minutes until they were over and I could just hang out with them like normal people. I rolled my eyes through every Beatles special and every album a friend played in my presence. Paul’s in town? Hell yes, I’m getting tickets to every show, even if I do sit there with my eyes glazed over, thinking about what I’m missing on TV. Jaded? Not even the word. Possibly the worst Beatles fan on the planet? #accurate.
Yes, I know that all of this makes me a terrible person, but I have faith that you’ll forgive me, dear Popdose reader, because, after many, many years, the unthinkable has happened.
I am finally coming back around to my Beatledom.
Due largely to the hoopla surrounding the 50th anniversary of Sullivan, I’ve found myself actually getting *gasp* excited about the Beatles again. I suppose that celebrating that initial excitement in America reminds me of my own initial excitement and has awakened a place in me that’s been dormant for years. I’ve slowly started dipping my toe back into the music, sampling each record as if hearing it for the first time. I no longer shirk the mention of the Fab Four; in fact, I’m sometimes the one posting Beatley links on Facebook. It wasn’t until I began the journey back to my fandom that I felt a huge weight lift: I realized that it’s okay to like the Beatles, even if my resurrection results in a casual admiration. They will always be part of my musical makeup, and, in fact, always were.
A few weeks ago, I participated in a street team/video shoot as a promo for the NY Fest for Beatles Fans. The plan was to gather outside the Ed Sullivan Theatre with signs and recreate the hysteria of Beatlemania, literally pretending it was 1964. Admittedly, I was wary to surround myself with fans again. So much time had passed and I was still so new to my fandom reignition; did I really have it in me to freak out over the Beatles so soon, if ever again?
I quickly learned that while I had been away Beatle-hating, a new generation had moved in and rightfully usurped. I met two 12-year-olds who rolled down the sidewalk on scooters singing “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds.” Another young girl had come in by herself from Long Island because she had no other friends who liked the Beatles, and was longing for community. Other kids simply prattled away about why Paul or George was their favorite and no one could ever compare, or why Revolver was the best album, or simply shrieking with genuine, exuberant glee as we marched down the street chanting, “We love you Beatles!” The best part was that they completely accepted me as one of them, not because I “was there first,” or could name all of the Beatles’ birthdays, or had once stood in Paul’s childhood bedroom, but because, to them, I was simply a fellow fan. That’s it.
Every single one reminded me so much of myself at that age, and in them, I saw why the Beatles, perhaps more than any other band, are not only timeless, but able to inspire the kind of dogged devotion that we will never witness again in music history. To say that the experience of meeting these kids while trying to ease myself back into the band was humbling wouldn’t even come close. I realized that, sure, I could love or hate the Beatles, but I am only one person, one writer, one fan. There are people who won’t be born for a hundred years who will carry on after me, who will make their own thrilling discoveries while listening to Rubber Soul on repeat, and who will replace those die-hard fans who, for whatever reason, fall off the wagon.
While that may be a bit depressing to some, it’s actually a really beautiful thing. It ensures that the fanbase will always repopulate and always continue. Now, that may not be true for some artists, but again, it’s another testament to the Beatles’ staying power. Do the Beatles truly NEED me to reengage the part of my brain that belongs to them? Naw. There are millions of others who could sing you the original lyrics to “Yesterday.”
But I do admit, it does feel pretty nice to come back.
HEY, YOU! YEAH, YOU! If you’re attending the NY Fest for Beatles Fans this weekend (February 7, 8, and 9) at the Grand Hyatt in New York City, I will be on a panel of fellow women music historians, writers, and scholars at 12:30pm on Saturday. Come say hi and/or punch me in the face for being bored during Paul McCartney concerts.